Think Safe Hitching

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Three-point hitches can be a mass of metal and hoses. Be careful how you connect them. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Kurt Lawton)

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about the basics of hydraulics on farm equipment. While most readers have probably worked around hydraulics for many years now, it was a good reminder.

I came across another interesting report titled "Safe Implement Hitching: A Guide for Safe Connection of Agricultural Tractors to Implements" from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) and the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA). The detailed report covers safe drawbar, three-point, power take-off (PTO), hydraulic and electrical connections.

While this may seem obvious, the drawbar connection needs to be connected to the drawbar. Attaching a load to any other location of tractor could cause the tractor to roll over.

Drawbars can either be fixed/nonadjustable or adjustable. Most newer tractors are equipped with a factory clevis to hook to tongue-style hitches.

The clevis-to-tongue connection provides the safest and most stable loading while also allowing for the required vertical angular capabilities as well as rotation, according to the report. Never hook clevis-to-clevis or tongue-to-tongue connections.

A safety chain is a required "safety backup" for tractor-to-implement connections. Minimum strength for safety chains should be equal to the gross weight of the implement being towed.

In preparation for using the three-point connection, operators should check the drawbar to make sure it doesn't interfere with three-point implements. In addition, the ballast of the tractor should be checked as the entire weight of the implement is carried on the tractor.

Before field operations, operators should check for implement leveling, implement rate of drop control, implement side sway adjustment and upper center link adjustment for proper draft control sensing (if the tractor is equipped).

Among my first jobs involving machinery as a teenager was to bring round hay bales back from the alfalfa field on the other side of the farm with our John Deere 4010 and a three-point bale mover. Even as someone who was not legally able to drive, I quickly learned that the adjustment of the center link was important with three-point equipment as I jabbed the ends of the mover into the ground several times.

The PTO connection can either be back- or front-mounted. Regardless of mount, the PTO rotates clockwise. This is a built-in safety feature to prevent implements from being run accidentally backwards, according to the report.

Three standard PTO shaft configurations exist -- a 540 rpm 6 spline, a 1,000 rpm 21 spline and a 1,000 rpm 20 spline shaft.

When using PTO and drawbar, the horizontal distance should be set so the hitch pin is centered between the two u-joints of the implement driveline on implements with equal angle drivelines. The 540 and the 1,000-RPM implements may require different drawbar positions and operators should refer to the implement operator's manual for the correct drawbar length.

Again, while a basic tip, the report states PTO should be run at safe speeds and over-speeding could lead to death or serious injury to the operator and/or equipment damage.

Those that operate PTO-powered implements know there is an entanglement hazard, which could be deadly. Many people have been killed or lost limbs as they became entangled with operating PTO shafts. Any adjustment to the implement needs to be done with the PTO off.

A few years back at the Husker Harvest Days farm show, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension had a safety display featuring a PTO shaft. A piece of rope was tied to the shaft and kids were told to hang onto the rope as the shaft was turned.

The point of the exhibit was to show how a much power a very slowly spinning PTO shaft has and why these hitch are so dangerous. I had my 10-year-old son try it to be sure he knew to stay away from PTO shafts in operation.

The entire 42-page report can viewed at….

Russ Quinn can be reached at



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